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Doing the Advanced Pilot Award

In the beginning………………..I cannot remember a time when I didn’t want to fly. My earliest aviation memory is of flying from Temora (my home town) to Sydney with Mum in a DC3.  Birds, kites, Tiger Moths, paper darts and anything else that flew were a constant source of fascination. Interestingly my grandfather, who flew in France with the fledgling fore-runner of the RAAF and was an instructor at No.10 EFTS (Elementary Flight Training School) during WW2, did not encourage my flying aspirations. Perhaps he saw aviation as a hostile activity because of his experiences. He could not have imagined the possibilities for recreational aviation that exist today.

As a youngster, growing up only a few kilometers’ from Parafield, I would spend hours with (war surplus) binoculars looking over to the airfield in the hope of seeing a light plane arrive or leave. I was possibly the only person in a 10 mile radius who didn’t react with anger when 6am arrived and planes were legally permitted to start their engines My career path was quite clear – I would be a Qantas Captain and boldly fly all over the world. Alas, a combination of no finance and less-than- perfect eyesight meant that this was not to be.

Over the years I flirted with getting my PPL but, somehow, the commitments attached to raising a family meant that there was never anywhere near enough spare cash to indulge this little fantasy.
Then along came Recreational Aviation and the ability to fly by obtaining a Pilots Certificate (PC)! So about 6 years ago, in an effort to stave off an incipient mid-life crisis, I took the plunge and went up for a TIF with Mike Chapman, CFI, Murray Bridge Light Aircraft Flying School (MBLAFS). The die had been cast! I suspect that Mike thought that my TIF would be the first and only time he would ever see me because my general aviation ability was pretty dismal. “Ham-fisted” would have been a polite description, certainly not the naturally gifted aviator that I had always imagined myself to be! Certainly landings were adventurous mysteries that rarely resembled anything that had gone before.
Nevertheless I wasn’t going anywhere so, with admirable fortitude, Mike set about helping me to get safe in the sky and to enjoy the discipline and personal freedom that have come as a result. Some 40 instruction hours later I was the proud owner of a PC endorsed for High Performance and Nose Wheel. Over ensuing months Passenger, Cross-country and Radio followed, and for the last 5 years I have been certificated to fly myself, and one blithely unsuspecting other, virtually anywhere in Australia. Of course there were always those pernicious budgetary constraints, so the number of destinations actually reached, and the number of hours actually flown, would always be less than my fantasies entertained.

Then, with a sense of shock, I realized that my skills were, at best, plateauing. Maybe, horrible thought, declining! And here was I, wanting to take the people most precious to me, my family, flying so they too could enjoy the experiences that had unfolded for me. How could I ensure that I was as safe a pilot as possible? Maybe just practice, practice, practice? Two subsequent BFR’s soon told me that this wasn’t enough. Some of the things I had practiced I had even become quite good at. The trouble was that a bad habit or two (or three) may have appeared, and, having practiced them so well, I had become really proficient at them! Or I forgot stuff and had no-one to remind me.

One day I was at a monthly BBQ at Murray Bridge (Mike’s hangar and flying school) and was talking to Ian McDonald, one of Mike’s Senior Instructors, about this whole issue. I mused out loud that perhaps I should consider getting Instructing qualifications, not because I wanted to actually instruct anyone, but simply because it was the only way to increase my flying skills. And Ian said: “Why don’t you do the Advanced Pilot Award”? To which I intelligently replied words to the effect of “What’s that? Never heard of it”.

Turns out that this option was there all the time but I just hadn’t seen mention of it anywhere. Have a look at the syllabus here… 

Essentially it is a course whereby a PC holder learns some higher order aviation skills, and gets refreshed in a whole lot of other skills, with an Instructor. It can be done at whatever pace suits the individual, Ian went on to explain - “You can take a year if you want to”. The standard required to demonstrate competence at this level is similar as is required for the Instructor Certificate but, of course, the Instructor-specific skills of flying from the right hand seat, dealing with students etc, are not in the curriculum.

I suspect that Ian was as surprised as Mike was 6 years ago when I booked in about a month later for my first lesson. It was fantastic. The weather couldn’t have been better, which is always a bonus, but more to the point, I learned a number of things in just one lesson that I could never have known about, let alone practiced on my own. I had never been in a plane, for instance, when the engine stopped. Although we did this within safe gliding distance of the strip, and at a safe altitude (just in case the engine wouldn’t restart – which it did of course) it taught me that the plane doesn’t stop flying, that it still needs to be controlled, that it is very quiet and that it will have to land very soon. So I will be far more confident and less prone to panic should this ever happen to me in real life! Other lessons included lots of forced landing practice, how to test the transmission volume of the radio and the importance of keeping your hand on the throttle (closed) when starting the engine because pesky passengers have a way of fiddling with things when you’re busy looking around and calling “Clear Prop!”

Later on in the day, as it happened, I was fortunate enough to be offered the right hand seat for a short flight with another Instructor in his own aircraft. He also decided, for good practice, to turn off the fan and practice a glide approach and dead-stick landing. What a fantastic learning experience that was for me, even though all I did was sit there quietly not touching anything.
Next lesson I’m told will include Lazy Eights. At least I should be good at the first part of that exercise!
One thing that had crossed my mind was “What about the extra money?” Reasonable thought, especially when the Minster for Home Affairs has decreed a budget emergency. Then I thought, well, why not just slosh down one or two less flat white coffees per week?  That would pay for it and be a lot more beneficial on both counts.

There is no fixed timeline on when I may achieve my APA. I really don’t care about the qualification per se anyway. What I care about is moving beyond the plateau and becoming a more knowledgeable, skilled and experienced pilot. Those who fly with me will be safer even though they may not realize it. I will have more confidence to fly to distant destinations and I’m sure will have many more positive aviation experiences than otherwise. On a below-the-line note, there is always the chance of things not going to plan. I’m pretty sure that will happen to me someday despite my best intentions otherwise. When it does happen I will have a greater chance of avoiding an unhappy ending.

So my call-to-action for other pilots, who may find themselves in similar situations, is to get off the couch, investigate the Advanced Pilot’s Award, and, if it looks like it is for you, call Mike or Ian (or whoever your local CFI is) and book in your first lesson. There’s really no excusable downside. It doesn’t cost much, it will rekindle your flying passion and it may just save your life.

Malcolm Butcher





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